There’s a Glaring Gender Disparity at the Venice Film Festival, and Its Organizers Are Still in Denial

venice film festival Gender Equality

Gender parity in film was the subject of a lively debate at this year’s Venice Film Festival, a festival that The Hollywood Reporter described as having the “worst record of major fests when it comes to gender balance.” Out of 21 films being screened this year in the competitive category at the Venice Film Festival, only two of the films are directed by female directors — Haifaa Al Mansour’s The Perfect Candidate, and Babyteeth by Shannon Murphy.

Citing for comparison other film fests’ gender parity numbers. Sundance, Berlin, and Toronto’s female-led films made up between 36 to 46 percent of their programming; Cannes lagged behind with less than 20 percent of its films having been directed by a woman. It’s not just this year though that Venice has a gender ratio of 9.5 percent women-led to 90.5 percent men-led films; last year, as well as the year before, only one female director was part of the competitive lineup. 

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Theo Wargo Getty Images

Alberto Barbera, the artistic director of the festival, has nonetheless denied accusations of gender bias in Venice’s selection process. “We think the main criteria is the quality of films — we don’t want to be indulgent with respect to the gender of directors,” he said at a panel about gender parity in film. Ah yes, that tired excuse, that there simply aren’t any good female-directed films out there to pick from. In other words, he feels that the selection process has been gender-blind. Deflecting responsibility for having the most male lineup of all the major festivals — and completely rejecting the idea of a quota as a means to achieving gender parity — Barbera suggested that producers need to step up to fund female-led films. He also insisted that films with female leads were proof that we’ve made progress in representation. 

Anyway, if you’re done rolling your eyes over these tired mansplanations as to why there are only two films led by females at the Venice Film Festival, it’s worth considering that Barbera is not completely wrong about everything: We’ve got to get producers on board to diversify the pool of directors. According to data released at the panel, a quarter of male-directed films submitted to Eurimages (a large European film production fund) had budgets of over $5.5 million, while less than 10 percent of female-directed films received such ample funding. The data also indicated that female directors tend to get paid less than their male counterparts. 

Funding is a substantial barrier to any filmmaker, and the fact that the deck is stacked against women is certainly one reason why the pool of male-directed films is so much more robust. Director Mary Harron agreed with Barbera regarding the funding problem, but she vouched for quotas. “If it is government funding, tax dollars, it should go 50-50 male and female,” she said. “Because quotas do work. […] You have to tip the scales when the scales are tipped against you.” 

Another female director, Susanna Nicchiarelli, said that she would have been unhappy if her film was included simply to fulfill a quota, but was fully supportive of gatekeepers being more proactive in addressing gender disparity in the film industry. “Because the real problem is the access to the money,” she said. “Incentives would help to overturn a certain way of seeing things and give us access to different audiences and bigger budgets.”

The Venice Film Festival runs through September 7th